Tag Archives: vacation

Vacation Toolbox: Eyefi Card

Eyefi is a really cool idea, add a wifi chip into a standard SD card, so that when you walk into your house, turn on your camera, all your photos are synced to the cloud. During this trip I finally also got the mobile link mode working, where your phone acts as a relay, which meant from Halifax on I was posting pictures up to friends on facebook during the trip.

It does this by starting up a wifi hotspot after the camera has been on for 30 seconds (and hasn’t found a wifi network it knows). You set up that hotspot on your phone, and because the devices are so close, it’s the dominant signal, and your phone auto jumps to it. It pulls down all the photos yet synced, then the AP goes silent, and your phone goes back to normal. Next time you wander onto a wifi network, your phone then relays those up to your chosen cloud sync point (many are supported, including google, facebook, smugmug, flickr, or your own gallery 3 installation).

If you have a camera, you should get an eyefi card. I really can’t imagine going back to having to sync photos through a PC any more.

Maritime Roadtrip Vacation

It’s hard to sum up a long and varied vacation, but a map is probably a good place to start. Below is where we stayed, in order, over the course of this epic summer vacation…

Our summer road trip – Stonington ME -> Fundy National Park -> Ingonish NS -> Halifax NS -> Lunenburg NS -> Saint John NB -> Freeport ME -> Home

By the numbers:

  • Length: 17 days
  • Driving Distance: ~2800 miles
  • Destinations: 5 (plus 2 additional places just to break up the drive home)

This was one of those vacations that was long and varied enough that when we left Cape Breton, and realized we were still a week away from home, we were just amazed. It was the kind of vacation that in it’s duration and variety you have large stretches where the world, and even your home, are a foggy memory of the distant past. It’s the kind of unwind that I’ve only gotten a few times, and that gives you incredibly fresh eyes on the world. The fact that I was momentarily confused when unpacking the car to find sleeping bags in it. “We had sleeping bags on this trip? Oh, right, 12 days ago in Fundy.”

A Road Trip begins with a Car

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We’d talked about the idea of Nova Scotia a couple of years ago, but at the time I had a Honda Civic, and my wife had a Prius. Neither had quite the space or comfort to want to drive nearly 3000 miles in two weeks. But last fall I got a new Subaru outback, with comfortable leather seats, and adaptive cruise control. The combination makes road trips something that’s much more enjoyable. I found my tolerance for distance driving went way up with the adaptive cruise control, as it takes a huge amount of the cognitive load off. This is also a bigger car, with the back seat full of shoes and 3 duffle bags of clothes, and the back packed with a cooler, food, cooking gear, sleeping bags and packs.

Stonington, Maine, the land of Islands (2 nights / 1 day)

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We started our adventure in Stonington, largely based on looking at google maps and realizing that from Stonington we could get to Isle Au Haut by Mail Boat, and hike there for the day. We were booked in at a great little B&B, with a porch view of the bay. Possibly the best meal of the trip was that night at Aragosta, where we sat at the bar. Their “reservations highly recommended” was no joke, as far as we could tell they were already booked a few days in advance when we go there.

The first snafu of the trip happened when we found that 10am Mail Boat was sold out (did so by 9am), so we ended up on the 11:30 instead, which meant a slightly different hike. As far as adjustments, it was a minor one. Isle Au Haut also sports the Lobster Lady food truck, where we had home made ice cream sandwiches, made with home made ice cream, and home made cookies. Soooooo good.

I’d love to come back to Stonington, and bring our Kayaks. The island chain leading out to Isle au Haut would be amazing in good weather to pluck from one to the other over the course of a day.

Fundy National Park – land of tides and yurts (3 nights / 2 days)

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We stayed in a yurt, and cooked on a wood fired cooking stove. By itself that would have been enough to make this awesome. However then you throw in the legendary Fundy tides, the hiking, happening to be there during a music festival, which we caught one act of, and Hopewell Rocks, and I probably could have gone home after this point satisfied that this was a pretty good vacation.

Hopewell Rocks was my single favorite outing during the trip. It’s like Arches National Park except underwater half the day. On a future trip I’d love to Kayak the rocks at high tide, eat lunch, then hike out on them at low tide.

Fundy is where the vacation finally took hold. We were out and away from everything, days drive from home, in a Yurt with no electricity, enjoying the quiet of the park and being amazed by the ever changing landscape.

Next time we’ll have to stay longer, there is so much hiking in the park to do, and large parts of the park we never even got to. I’d love to actually get a group of friends together and take over the Yurt colony for a week.

Cape Breton – world’s end (4 nights / 3 days)

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The cabin we stayed at in Cape Breton was my favorite place on the trip. Every morning I would wake up before Susan, make a cup of coffee in my travel french press, sit out on the porch in the adirondack chair with my tablet to read a book, and watch the morning unfold over Ingonish bay. There was a calm and peace to it that you only get days from home, with my last work day now a week and 2 adventures in the past. Adding to the cabin experience was the incredible provided breakfast, using fresh tomatoes from the vegetable garden on site, and the fact that we were brought a seafood appetizer every afternoon.

Cape Breton is a land of eagles. We never went a day without seeing a bald eagle. We did 3 pretty solid days of hiking, 2 near Ingonish, and 1 on the other side of the cabot trail (1.5 hrs drive each way) to take in the Sky Line trail. We saw moose, both in the road and in the woods. We saw porpoises at a distance through binocs, from atop a mountain. It was just amazing.

We will come back here. I wouldn’t change much about this part of the trip, except time. Take much more of it there.

Interlude: BaKED in New Glasgow

On our way off Cape Breton towards Halifax, in the first rain we say the entire trip, we stopped at BaKED in New Glasgow for lunch. Yay for Tripadvisor and Google Maps helping me find this place. Incredible food, lots of vegetarian options for Susan, and a great bakery case. This place is worth going out of the way for if you are ever in that part of Nova Scotia.

Halifax – back to civilization (2 nights – 2 days)

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After the isolation of Cape Breton, the bustle of Halifax was actually a little jarring. Calendar wise I wanted to put us there on a weekend to get a flavor for the city, but this was the least smooth transition of the trip, and one I’d probably avoid in a future itinerary.

Halifax is a pretty cool city, we had a nice and very talkative inn keeper a little north of town. She was extremely helpful in pointing out things we might want to check out. Halifax was a lot of walking, a lot of good food and beer. The city market was the best I’d seen, and a lot more functional than most. We ate lunch there on top of the building, with a green roof and windmills. We discovered the most amazing gelato / bakery / tea shop in the world. I’m actually surprised I got Susan out of there.

We also had the most unexpected part of the vacation in Halifax, wandering through the main park on our last day we came into an area where an old man had slipped and fallen off a trail, and was bleeding from the head. His son discovered him just about the time Susan and I were both realizing something was wrong, and the two of us proceeded to help until the paramedics arrived.

Lunenburg – a town of history (3 nights – 2 days)

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Only an hour away from Halifax, but seemingly a hundred years distant. This was a recommendation by my friend Bob, which I highly appreciate. Here we finally took to the water, in kayaks for a wonderful tour of the Blue Rock formations, and finally put the car on a ferry for the first and only time on the trip. We drank from a small batch distillery, and loaded up to the legal limit to bring home. And we had some of our best breakfast conversations of the trip with other B&B guests.

We also had foggy mornings, for the first time in the trip. We had such ridiculous luck with weather on this trip.

Returning Home: Saint John & Freeport Maine

And then there was nothing left to do but start our journey home. We got a great recommendation from our Inn keeper in Lunenburg to stop off at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park on the way to Saint John. It broke up the drive, and let us get some views of cougars, coyotes, elk, hawks, and beasts of all varieties.

In Saint John we ended up with a breakfast table full of Americans, that were largely doing versions of the same trip we were. One couple had been in Stonington for a week, we probably missed them by a few days on that end.

When Susan realized that our return trip could include stopping off at the LL Bean flagship store, it became a must do. So Freeport it was as our final stop. We did manage to stay at a very cool B&B run by an elderly couple who grew up in the area. So they had history, had known LL a bit (the wife grew up in the house, which was across from where LL’s house once was). There was plenty of shopping, but also a great deck to sit out on.

Home now, for a couple of days, I’m still getting used to the idea of not living out of a car. We’re processing laundry, in volume, and readjusting to home, slowly. That afterglow of the vacation is still here though, and the more I think about this trip, the more I am amazed that it was only 17 days. It was so packed with experience and adventure that it feels like the vacation started last year, not 2.5 weeks ago.

I can’t wait for the next grand adventure like this.

A tale of two border crossings

Note: everything else about the vacation is going to be positive, but I needed to mini rant about this one.

One of the unfortunate things about leaving the country is returning. Not because it’s not great to come home, but because of the stark contrast between border crossing outbound, and border crossing inbound. I’ve done this border crossing enough that when going to Canada I plan that entering Canada adds 15 mins to the drive, entering the US adds 1 hour to the drive. Here’s how it went this time.

Entering Canada

No line of cars, pull up to security checkpoint, stop, hand over our passports.

Guard: hey folks, where are you going today?

Me: Vacationing in Nova Scotia for the next couple of weeks.

Guard: Any Tabaco or Alcohol?

Me: Half a bottle of Port.

Guard: ok, but no Tabaco or Firearms?

Me: Nope.

Guard: how long you going to be here?

Me: About two weeks.

Guard: Ok, enjoy the vacation.

Elapsed time: 3 minutes


Crossing back to the US

Wait in line for 10 minutes in line of cars. Get to booth, stop, hand over our passports.

Guard: hey folks, where you headed?

Me: home to Poughkeepsie, NY, back from a couple weeks vacation.

Guard: how long… oh you said a couple of weeks.

Me: yep, about two weeks.

Guard: any alcohol or tabacco?

Me: yes, we’re bringing by alcohol from a distillery in Canada

Guard is typing away with passports, not actually paying attention.

Guard: what was that, sorry?

Me: we’ve got some alcohol from Canada.

Guard: how much and what kind?

Me: 3L, some vodka, rum, a couple other types.

Guard: that’s from a Canadian distillery right, not Cuban?

Me: yep, from a microdistillery down in Luneburg.

Guard: ok, any Tabaco?

Me: no

Guard: can you roll down your back window?

Me: sure

Guard: you folks bringing any produce back into the states?

Susan: I think we’ve got some celery and a pepper in the cooler.

Guard: the celery is ok, but we’ll need to take the pepper.

Susan: ok, if it matters they both actually came from the US.

Guard: doesn’t matter miss. Where is this?

Me: in the cooler in the back.

Guard: can you pop the trunk sir?

Me: should be open.

Guard goes to back, opens it, struggles with the cooler a little bit.

Me: would you like any help?

Guard: no, sir, stay in the car.

Guard gets back to the guard station, elicit pepper that’s been travelling with us for two weeks in hand. Guard goes back to typing on computer.

Guard: miss, did you loose you passport at some point?

Susan: yes, my bag was stolen in India back in 2000-2001 with my passport.

Guard: (type type type) ok, we’ll need you folks to pull to the side up there. Please pull into bay #2 and go inside.

We pull into bay #2, there is a big sign that says “wait for guard”.

Me: hmmm… so do we wait, or go in?

Susan: I don’t know, lets wait, they’ll tell us what they want.

A couple of minutes pass, Guard hands off passports to Guard #2 chats to him a bit, then walks over to our car.

Guard: folks, I need you to go inside.

Me: no problem.

Go inside, come up to desk. Guard #2 and Guard #3 start typing at things and looking at passports and us. Guard #3 seems to have gotten the role of checking out our passports.

Guard #3: so miss, you lost your passport?

Susan: yes, my bag was stolen in India, back in 2000, so I had to get a replacement.

Guard #3: ok, and this passport is a renewal?

Susan: yes.

Guard #3: so this would be your third passport, so to speak?

Susan: correct.

Guard #3: when were you folks last in Canada?

Me: we were just trying to sort that out. I think I was last here in Ottawa back around 2007.

Susan: I think my last time was 2005 when we did a Vancouver trip.

Guard #3: what about 2008, 2009?

Me: huh, no I don’t think we were here then.

Guard #3 is now clearly looking at our other travel records, but he didn’t actually tell us he was interested in anything beyond Canada.

Guard #3: where else did you travel in 2009?

Me: … I think that might have been India, or maybe that was the year before. We were in Germany around then as well.

(honestly, we travel enough, that I have a hard time keeping the order of trips sorted, especially being 4 years ago).

Guard #1 comes back, Guard #3 and #1 start trying to find something on the computer. Some linke. Guard #3 asks what he’s actually supposed to do. Guard #1 says go to some system, plug in her (Susan’s) name and birthday.

Guard #1: hey folks, can you take a seat for a moment.

Note, there aren’t any seats, but there is a stone window sill on the other side of the room. We go and sit there.

There is typing, and more typing. Guard #1 comes and goes. At some point I think Guard #1 had to log into something with his credentials because Guard #3 couldn’t get into the system they needed. About 10 minutes pass, Susan and I chit chatting during it. Guard #3 calls us up.

Guard #3: miss, what is your mother’s maiden name?

Susan responds with her mom’s full maiden name, first and last.

Guard #3: what was that? (clearly he was expecting only last name)

Susan repeats.

Guard #3: ok. (Hands back our passports) you folks are free to go.

We walk out the door and head out.

Total elapsed time: 40 minutes

Note, this isn’t the first time that Susan’s gotten pulled aside because of the stolen passport, though they only seemed to start doing it in 2008 (back from India, where they didn’t want to let her get on the plane without a second form of ID), and 2009 (on our trip from Germany where Susan got swept off into a back room for 30 minutes after we landed). My guess is they implemented a new software system that flags more people. I’d have thought that after a few of these conversations they’d have annotated the records, but apparently our tax dollars hard at work means that they really like talking to her on every border crossing. Especially given that the stolen passport wouldn’t even have valid dates on it any more, because it was 12 years ago that it was stolen.

Realistically this was still less than the hour I’d allocated for the crossing. But it just always frustrates me that border crossing back to our own country is such a dreadful experience, and a think I always loath at the end of the trip.

Disconnecting for Vacation

I learned something interesting over these last two weeks, which is how to disconnect from work on vacation without loosing the connection to home and friends. In a connected age, it’s hard to get one without the other, but it turns out that the way I’ve set up my social networks I have a reasonable balance.

Step #1 – Turn off Twitter – I really love twitter, it’s where I spend most of my social time. But the downside in being so connected to so many other stackers is that twitter pulls me back into a work mindset. Basically after our first two nights out I realized I need to just give up twitter for the duration to really disconnect.

Step #2 – Stop reading RSS – I basically just stopped from about two nights in, until this morning. The world could do it’s own thing for the last two weeks, and I’m happy with that. And in general stop reading news. That can all wait until I get home.

Step #3 – Facebook. I actually used facebook more than I usually do during the vacation. Once or twice a day I could post something fun from the vacation, and once I figured out the perennial misconfiguration of my eyefi card, I was able to post pictures from the trip from my real camera, via my cell phone.

Step #4 – Foursquare. I really seem to use Foursquare mostly when traveling. It’s kind of a travel log for me to go back and see things later.

I’m slowly starting to reconnect now, probably not fully until I get back to the office on Tuesday. But this strategy worked well enough on this long trip that I think I’ll be using it again in the future. Definitely curious what other folks use to disconnect on vacation.

Radio Silence in Greenbank WV

One of the more impromptu parts of our vacation was a realization that without going too far out of the way (adding only about an extra hour of driving to DC) we could hit up the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Greenbank, West Virginia.

NRAO Greenank Radio Telescope. Dish surface is over 2 acres in size.

The NRAO is home to the world’s largest steerable radio telescope. The surface of which is over 2 acres in size. Beyond just the big dish there are a number of other large scale radio observatories, some run by the observatory directly, others leased out to Universities. Because of an act of Congress, the NRAO has sole licensing authority for commercial wireless in a 100 mile radius (“We’re the reason your cell phone doesn’t work right now”), and complete authority over all types of wireless in a 10 mile range. If your microwave goes hay wire and starts emitting radio signals, they’ve got a truck outfitted with antennas which will help them find your house. They will then attempt to fix it, or will replace it if it’s unfixable.

NRAO radio emission locator truck

We managed to arrive just as the 4pm tour was starting. We got a great presentation inside the main visitors center, then a tour of the telescope grounds in our diesel powered van. Nothing with spark plugs is allowed within 1 mile of the Greenbank Telescope, as it would generate enough radio noise to mess up experiments. I also have no digital camera pictures within that radius, as the stray RF from a digital camera (both being on and taking pictures) inside the 1 mile zone will show up in the telescope data. They have an observation platform at 1 mile just for that purpose. Our tour guide was pretty awesome, telling lots of great stories about the challenges of running super sensitive radio experiments.

The EM spectrum. Wavelengths are correct scale, which is a nice detail.
IR photo of Susan and Me. We also used it to prove her feet are abnormally cold.

Back at the visitors center they had an amazingly good display on the Science of Electromagnetic Radiation. Including displays in IR, Spectrographs, investigations into Pulsars, and many other great exhibits. We spent nearly an hour wandering around there.

The Overhead display at NRAO, which covers the ceiling of the entire room. This is by far the best visualization of the milkway that I've seen.

This was definitely a great stop. By it’s nature, it’s pretty far away from everything, but the hills of West Virginia are beautiful, so it’s a nice scenic drive to get there. We might go back in the future, as there is some great camping / hiking in that area of WV.

Cleveland’s Beer District – Market Garden Brewery

We just returned from a road trip of a vacation, where we visited many friends and family. It was sort of like the vacations we’ve taken in far away lands, except instead of jumping on a plane or a train every 2 – 4 days, this time it was our own car. Home to Ithaca, NY to Cleveland, Ohio to Charleston, WV to Greenbank, WV to Greater DC area then home. About 2000 miles in 12 days.

The reason the trip happened at all was because of the Ohio portion. The Market Garden Brewery just opened last month, with Susan’s brother Andy as brewmaster, so we had to go check it out. It’s an American style beer garden, with a few different inside seating spaces, and roof seating in the works for next year.

Market Garden Brewery - Beer Garden
Market Garden Brewery - Beer Garden
Market Garden Brewery - Bar and Dining Area
Market Garden Brewery - Other Bar which opens into a meeting room

They are currently running 10 taps with 10 different brews going at once. Most are what Andy calls “Session Beers”, meaning 5% or alcohol or less. This goes contrary to the current trend among internet beer aficionados, who are mostly drinking much stronger stuff at home, but for a brew pub, is the only way you can sanely have more than one glass. Over the course of a couple of nights, plus some growlers that came back to the house and to WV, we managed to sample most of the menu. The Cluster Fuggle IPA and Tart Blanche were probably my favorites, with Pearl Street PM and the Strong Ale as close seconds. They also did a great job with the food at the place.

With the Market Garden Brewery, Bier Mart, and Great Lakes Brewery across the street, the whole area is basically now the Cleveland Beer District. This appears to be working well for all parties involved, because you’ve got so many good options right across from each other. If one doesn’t fit your taste, just go down one door to the next.

I suspect that we’ll be making a regular pilgrimage out to Cleveland now. Like I’ve said many times, it’s really a great thing to have a beer maker in the family.